CAIRO – Eleven months after the ouster of the nation's first democratically elected president, Egyptians headed to the polls Monday to restore a long, national tradition: the election of a military strongman.
Former military chief and presidential front-runner Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the Army in ousting Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi from power last July with widespread public support, is the assured winner in the two-day balloting, according to polls and political analysts.
Leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi is the only other candidate in the election. He seeks to draw support from the country's youth and vows to fight for the rights of the poor.
"While Egypt is going through the motions of presidential elections, the reality is that there is one candidate on the presidential ballot and that is Abdel Fattah al-Sisi," said Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics.
"Barring a political miracle, or God forbid an assassination attempt on his life, I think al-Sisi will be the next president of Egypt," he said.
The vote, which will continue for a second day Tuesday, is taking place under an interim, military-backed government.
In a televised speech Sunday, current president Adly Mansour, who was installed after Morsi's ouster, urged Egyptians to hit the polls. He said state institutions seek high voter turnout to "consolidate democracy" and "enrich the political process in Egypt." He also said state institutions are not favoring one candidate over the other.
State media has thrown its weight behind Sisi, who is hailed by supporters as a strongman who can restore security and rebuild a crumbling economy after more than three years of political unrest that began with an uprising in 2011.
"We need al-Sisi because we see him as the only one who can help our country succeed," said Saber El Gabry, an Egyptian businessman.
Some Egyptians staunchly oppose the former military chief for plotting what they call a bloody coup against Muslim Brotherhood figure Morsi, who was elected president in 2012 in what was widely considered a free and fair election.
"Boycott the blood ballot," a Brotherhood-led alliance said in a recent statement, condemning what the statement refers to as "the murderer" and "the entire coup."
The poll comes amid a broad crackdown on opposition that has led to thousands of deaths and mass imprisonment.
Over the past 10 months, authorities – with widespread public support – have crushed the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist movement was the nation's most powerful political force following the 2011 ouster of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, but faced dwindling support when Morsi was accused of failing to lead the country during his one-year presidency.
The crackdown on Islamists has fueled militant violence largely targeting police, government buildings and security installations. To secure voting stations this week, hundreds of thousands of police and army forces have been deployed nationwide, according to local news media.
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo is advising Americans to limit their movements on Monday and Tuesday to their immediate areas of residence due to the possibility of violence and the potential for election activity to cause disruptions to travel.
"While there are no known specific threats, there is a possibility that some may try to disrupt the voting process with acts of violence," a security message to Americans says.